Flexibility: Changing Status Allows Reservist to Pursue His Dream

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner
  • Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs

When Lt. Col. Brian Biggs’ part-time hobby of operating a not-for-profit virtual running club raising money for a host of different charities turned into a full-time job, the active Guard and Reserve Reservist knew something had to give.

As a full-time AGR member, he was working eight to 10 hours a day as the Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command section commander at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. Most days he would get home in the afternoon around 5:30 or 6:00. He would then work until around 1 a.m. on his “second” job. The next morning, he would get up and do it all over again.

Working 18 hours a day Monday through Friday and having more work to do on the weekends was taking its toll on the 40-year-old lieutenant colonel.

“I am tired,” he said with a smile during a recent interview at his AFRC office.

Biggs said everything came to a head late one night in November when he and his wife got involved in a very emotional conversation about everything that was going on.

“I finally looked at her and said, ‘Honey, it’s not like I can just quit my job.’ But then I thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute. I’m an Air Force Reservist. As a matter of fact, I can quit my job. I absolutely can do that.’

“My life had changed. I had this amazing opportunity to run my own nonprofit organization, and the Air Force Reserve has the flexibility to afford me the opportunity to change my life. I can continue to serve. I can quit being an AGR and become a traditional Reservist.”

That’s just what he did. Biggs has accepted a job at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, to be the deputy commander for the 315th Mission Support Group as a traditional Reservist. He will relinquish his current command on June 22 and plans on moving his family to their new home in Connecticut in July. His first unit training assembly at Charleston will be in September.

“I am ridiculously excited about my next job,” he said. “From where I sit right now in a squadron command-equivalent job to being an MSG deputy commander is exactly the path I should be on. Hopefully, I’ll be an MSG commander in a few years, or I could go and be a mobilization assistant somewhere.

“I can continue to serve for another 10 to 15 years. That’s something I couldn’t do as an AGR, but it’s something I can do as a TR.”

Biggs said that when he told Lt. Gen. James F. Jackson about his plans, the AFRC commander was thrilled.

“I thought he was going to start turning cartwheels,” he said. “That is exactly what he wants his people to do. He wants them to be part time for a while and then full time for a while. He wants the Reserve to flex to meet the needs of the member, not the other way around. That’s the beauty the Reserve provides — flexibility.”

 Becoming a traditional Reservist will give Biggs the time he needs to devote to what will soon be his full-time civilian job: operating Hogwarts Running Club, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization that has experienced tremendous growth since Biggs started it in 2014.

 The seed for the club was planted in 2013 when Biggs’s wife, Dawn, ran her first half-marathon and piqued her husband’s curiosity in running.

 “I was at the finish line when she ran her first half-marathon in Florida in November 2013, and I saw the energy and excitement and all the people cheering,” he said. “I also saw the big medal she got at the end, and I was bright green with envy.”

Biggs started running, too, and completed his first half-marathon in January 2014. He has now completed 25 half marathons and two full marathons in just over two years. As he started running in more 13.1-mile events, he thought it would be a good idea to use his newfound hobby to raise money for charity. He started asking friends and family members to sponsor him, and Biggs donated the money that he raised to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

“I was doing a lot of races, so pretty soon, my friends and family stopped answering my phone calls,” he said. “So I started looking for another way to raise money.”

It was at about this time that a college friend showed Biggs a Star Wars-themed medal she had gotten from a virtual running group. Biggs and his wife are big Harry Potter fans (he threw the seventh book across the room when Harry’s pet owl, Hedwig, died), so they decided to start their own virtual running club with a theme based on the J.K. Rowling series of books and movies.

“The great thing about a virtual run is that it’s your race, your pace, your place,” Biggs said. “You pay your registration fee of $25 and complete the run on or around the suggested date at your own location. You complete the distance, we send you your medal for finishing the distance.”

No proof of completion is required as the club operates on the honor system.

Biggs launched the Hogwarts Running Club Facebook page and the club’s first event, the Sorcerer’s Stone 5K, on March 6, 2014. Thirty-two people signed up, completed the virtual run and received a medal. More races followed every other month or so.

“Our first year, we raised $10,670 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute,” Biggs said.

In 2015, the club conducted six runs and an additional “time turner” event and donated $406,171 to several different charities, including Miles for Cystic Fibrosis, Dogs on Deployment, Achilles International and Noah’s Light Foundation.

“This year we are on track to donate $1 million to charities,” he said.

Now, instead of having 32 people sign up to participate in a run, Hogwarts Running Club has nearly 6,000 people from all over the world take part in each event. The club has more than 35,000 members from all 50 states and 42 different countries sorted into four houses, each with its own Facebook community. It even has its own online store, called HorizontAlley, that sells HRC merchandise to raise more money for charity.

Biggs said a lot of people take part in the virtual runs to get the medals.

“Our medals aren’t like anything else you’ve ever seen,” he said. “They are intricate, unusual and totally spectacular. But that’s not the only reason people take part. We’ve created a community where people can get together and talk about their love for running and their love for Harry Potter. They can geek out about their fandom. They cheer each other on. They encourage each other. We are a place of acceptance and tolerance, and we’re helping people improve their lives.

“We have ultramarathon runners who run 200 miles a week giving advice to people who are 200 pounds overweight, trying to get off the couch for the first time.

“We’ve really tapped into something. We knew there were a lot of Harry Potter geeks out there, but now we realize that geeks make the best philanthropists because they believe a better world is possible. It’s the world they’ve read about in these books.”

The club has branched out into other areas of giving. When the club recently held its Molly Weasley scarf drive in conjunction with its Molly Weasley Ugly Jumper Run, Biggs said he was hoping to receive 2,000 scarves that he could redistribute to different charities. He received nearly 18,000 that he was able to pass on through the One Warm Coat organization.

Biggs has big plans for HRC in the years to come.

“We’re just going to keep growing,” he said, carrying out the club’s mission of “Changing the Muggle world, one mile at a time.”

But there is no way he could keep up with that growth without the flexibility offered by the Air Force Reserve.

“Going from AGR to TR is a heck of a process,” he said. “It’s not as easy as it should be, but it is definitely doable. I am going to leave this summer with 15 active-duty years. I’m giving up career status, and a lot of people have told me that I’m insane for doing that. I’m going to willingly give it up because if I didn’t, Hogwarts Running Club would probably wither and die. It is doing so much good that I can’t let that happen.”

More information about the club is available online at www.hogwartsrunningclub.org.